Sanjaya Malakar and American Idol

Screaming fans have lined up outside my house demanding that I post about Sanjaya Malakar. Some of them have Mohawk hairstyles, and some are even threatening to start singing. But what to say? Sanjaya’s beyond words, he’s so good and bad, both.

Here’s my theory on why he’s got so far in American Idol and why he won’t go all the way. The format of the show helps a polarising figure like him survive in the early rounds. If the viewers of American Idol had to vote to throw people out instead of to keep them in, he would have been out long ago. People who want him to stay would have faced the task of figuring out which of his opponents was closest to him, and they’d have had to vote in concert for that person. Hardly likely. (That voting mechanism helped the low-key Rahul Roy win Big Boss, as I’d mentioned here.)

Instead, as Sanjaya’s supporters vote to keep him in, people who don’t like him find their votes diffused among his many competitors. But as the show progresses, there will be fewer and fewer contestants left, and the votes of those against Sanjaya won’t be spread so thin. That is why he’s unlikely to go all the way. A similar case that I’d once written about was that of Ravinder Ravi, who, in the first season of Indian Idol, exasperated Anu Malik even more than Sanjaya bugs Simon Cowell. Ravi outlasted many better singers, but lost out in the final five.

Of course, there are other factors at play as well. Sanjaya has the backing of the immensely delightful Howard Stern, who “hopes to turn the talent competition into a farce and destroy its popularity.” The premise there seems to be that the show is popular because of the quality of its singers, which Vote for the Worst disputes by saying that “American Idol is not about singing at all, it’s about making good reality TV and enjoying the cheesy, guilty pleasure of watching bad singing.” They’re also supporting Sanjaya.

If Sanjaya progresses through the show, expect the Indian press to catch on. Right now he’s under the radar: hardly anyone watches Star World, where American Idol is telecast, and the media probably hasn’t gone to town with the story because he’s an object of ridicule for the American press. But if he comes close to winning, it’ll be reported as an “Indian Boy Come Good” story, even though he’s an American boy. Such it goes.

Meanwhile, for a few glimpses of what the American media has to say about Sanjaya, check out Manish’s post on the subject. And below the fold comes a clip of Sanjaya singing the No Doubt song, “Bathwater”: not quite as bad as the hype around him, I’d say. Certainly better than bloody Ravinder Ravi.

(Update: Comments are now open, please leave your thoughts on Sanjaya. Also, Gaurav has a technorati analysis of American Idol contestants here.)